Genesys analyst conference: follow the Genesys Twitterati

Yesterday Genesys (owned by Alcatel-Lucent) held an analyst conference to present the latest and greatest about all things this #1 CTI software vendor has to offer. Thankfully, plenty of #staranalysts (seriously?) members were generous in tweeting the information onto the #GenesysAR stream to share with everyone. Yours truly, being a simple amateur n00b blogger, didn’t get to attend this fabulous event at the serene Rosewood Sand Hill in Menlo Park, CA. But who needs physical presence when virtual is the trend and telepresence is chic, right? Yet having been to a Genesys G-Force conference where attendees are constantly being fed in a luxurious venue, I sure miss this:

Well, I suppose there is always G-Force Chicago in April… At any rate, what’s an analyst conference without shout-outs, right? Is it like the MTV Music Awards show without the lame jokes, outrageous stunts, and questionable attire…?

All right, onto business. First, CEO and President of Alcatel-Lucent’s Application Software Group, Paul Segre, took the stage to ease concerns about the recent restructuring and reorganization. It’s all about leading:

While that may hold true, the last time I checked Wall Street Journal, companies restructure and reorganize to cut costs which often translates to reducing headcount. When I spoke to a couple of laid off Genesys employees last year, none of them mentioned anything about the leading part. Either management did not convey this top-down, or maybe it was just a reaction to the global economic meltdown? There’s really no shame in admitting that — everybody’s hurting these days. But luckily for my ex-Genesys friends, they have since found jobs with competitors. (Whatever happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas. Whoever gets laid off in telecom, stays in telecom. It’s true.)

Alcatel-Lucent is in the global telecom equipment business. In terms of its $8 billion market cap, it is dwarfed compared to its well-known competitors: Nokia ($52 billion), Motorola ($15 billion), Siemens ($79 billion), Cisco ($130 billion), and Ericsson ($32 billion). However, it did strike gold with the Genesys acquisition. It bought the #1 contact center software company with an established worldwide customer base, and leaves all the aforementioned competitors in the dust when comparing contact center sales. The strategy then, of course, is to tie ALU hardware sales to Genesys software:

It’s a no-brainer. Oh, I remember fondly of the (supposedly) first U.S. integration between an Alcatel-Lucent PBX and Genesys CTI. It was somewhere in sunny, humid south Florida during summer, and I was working with a senior Genesys consultant. At the time Genesys was already part of ALU, but amazingly the PBX shipped with an E1 telephony interface card so my poor PM had to authorize the purchase of a T1 adapter. To further our amusement, the PBX came with French manuals and the console was dotted with nothing but French. We all wished then we had paid more attention in high school French class…

But I digress. In order to align the sales resources between the parent and child companies, ALU had to obtain more control of Genesys. Not to say that Genesys was a runaway company, but it was the best and logical business decision. And when former President and CEO Wes Hayden left for Nuance (and now President of LiveOps), CTO Paul Segre was a good fit to lead Genesys because of his past history with Alcatel (VP and GM of Wireline Access business unit).

Much has improved in the ALU-Genesys technology integration. Just recently I was on such a project and it was a pleasant surprise. It wasn’t like fitting a square peg into a round hole anymore. Even the PBX technician swore by the ALU switch, “I enjoy working on it more than the Avaya,” he’d told me. That spoke volumes especially coming from a seasoned PBX tech. Definitely kudos to the ALU and Genesys engineers.

So what else does Genesys have in store for CTI fanatics? The elusive Genesys 8 makes an (updated?) appearance (hmmm, didn’t I see it last year at G-Force Orlando?):

Quite a combo meal indeed. What does this mean for implementations? Will the team have to deal with three different vendors? It’s already a major task just to get to Genesys Tech Support (upgrade, send logs, we’ll call you back), I’d hate to be on the field putting in Genesys 8 and having to work with engineers from Lithium and InQuira also. Even if it’s cool that tweets can get routed in G8. (Really nothing major considering emails and faxes can get routed already.)

Of course, the obligatory but nonetheless intriguing Apple iPad reference, note that Apple is a Genesys customer:

Sigh. Apple’s coolness factor has just gone down a notch. We all know the iPad isn’t for serious business — games, games, games!!! Okay, and ebooks! And by ebooks I mean comics! (Dilbert would look great on a contact center iPad.)

As I had posted before, Genesys is ready to pounce on Nortel customers. Nortel customers can probably negotiate a good deal now. Yet not sure how else to put in an ALU switch without rip and replace? ALU would want to sell the hardware.

Later there was an NDA segment which barred those in attendance to disclose juicy information. Wonder what it is? I’m thinking an embedded chip which can be injected under you skin that contains all your preferred IVR menu option trees. So whenever you pick up a phone to dial an IVR, just put the speaker near the chip (don’t embed it near your eye ’cause then you’d look like an idiot) and it will automagically navigate through the system to get you to an agent. In other words, the chip emits a DTFM tone of zero. #rumor #secretproduct

There’s a lot more information from these top industry analysts. Again, to follow the complete Twitter conversation, search for #GenesysAR. If you love to hate or hate to love Genesys, then you owe it to yourself.

Convergys recognized as ‘Best Call Center Technology Provider’ in China

Convergys further cements its global reputation as a contact center leader with this award from the China Call Center and CRM Association:

(Cincinnati and Beijing; January 28, 2010) – Convergys Corporation (NYSE: CVG), a global leader in relationship management, announced today that the China Call Center & CRM Association (CNCCA) has named Convergys the “Best Call Center Technology Provider of 2009 in China.”

Voted on by experts throughout the contact center industry, Convergys received the prestigious award based on its expertise in relationship management and holistic approach to customer solutions, its rich experience implementing global technology innovations, as well as its continued commitment to the development of the Chinese contact center market.

Convergys is a key player in the Chinese financial services industry, where its Edify Voice Interaction Platform powers millions of instances of customer self-service.

“To be recognized by our industry peers with this prestigious award is a great honor,” said Benjamin Hart, Convergys Managing Director of Relationship Technology Management, Asia Pacific.  “Because customer service is directly linked with the benefits and profits of an enterprise, Convergys provides its clients with a 360-degree, well-rounded customer management solution. We construct a complete and integrated solution based on the understanding and analysis of the strategy, needs, and desired goals of our clients, thereby helping them achieve their overall goals of high customer satisfaction and revenue growth.”

The China Call Center & CRM Association’s award ceremony is the industry’s annual event and it has the aim of promoting the concept of customer care in order to improve call center operations, to establish international call center standards, and to drive further growth of the call center industry in China.

This is significant considering the size of the Chinese market. Who doesn’t want a piece of the action there these days?

Although the press release touts its Edify platform, my question is, What ever happened to its Intervoice acquisition? In 2008 it paid $335 million in cash for the acquisition — hardly pocket change. It already had Edify (bought in 2005), but obviously the company still saw an opportunity with adding another voice platform to its product portfolio. Right now there doesn’t seem to be any plans to consolidate the two voice platforms, either. If the Intervoice acquisition was merely to increase customer base, then there’s the risk of product fragmentation and all the headaches that goes along with it. Convergys is clearly going the opposite way of what Avaya-Nortel decided to do.

Apple iPad in the contact center?

Tablet computers are traditionally favored in two specific markets, education and health care. Proponents of tablet computing envision students carrying a lightweight, thin device with a stylus for taking notes, make drawings, and reading textbooks. In health care, tablet computers accompany physicians to provide patient information — history, x-ray pictures, etc. — and drug and disease reference material. The main problem with tablet computers today — until Apple revealed its iPad — is the user interface and interaction. Existing tablet devices run the traditional operating systems like Windows and Linux, and the only difference is that instead of using a keyboard and mouse to interact, the user gets to use a stylus. The OS remains the same without consideration for a new UI more suitable for a tablet. Sure it’s highly portable, but it’s not highly usable.

The Apple iPhone redefined how a person interacts with a mobile device. Its multitouch capabilities pushed UI paradigms to a new era. With the success of the iPhone, Apple clearly saw the world ready to accept a multitouch tablet device.

Enter the Apple iPad.

This device has the same iPhone OS which was made purely for gesture-based interactions. Better yet, it will run existing iPhone applications with no problem. Just as companies started to make iPhone apps to complement their regular product offerings (Cisco and Avaya, have enterprise iPhone apps; Genesys announced an iPhone app during G-Force Orlando 2009), they should see the bigger-footprint iPad as another opportunity to enhance the contact center experience.

The contact center supervisor and manager would find the iPad a perfect device to keep up with their busy schedules and still able to monitor the center’s performance. Of course, it all depends on the available applications from these vendors. Another potential for a new revenue stream? Make a deal with Apple to resell iPads preloaded with the vendor’s technical and marketing documents, as well as the vendor’s apps. I bet that’ll have a positive impact on the retention rate of contact center staff, too. Who wouldn’t want a shiny Apple iPad as a work device?

Cisco offers free license to telepresence protocol

Cisco is betting on high-definition telepresence to be as common as Skype and iChat videoconferencing by giving away its Telepresence Interoperability Protocol (TIP) license to third parties. The company hopes to plant the seeds to see a flourishing telepresence product market which operates on its protocol.

The move is not surprising as the trend has been for companies to “open up” or to adopt open standards. For instance, in March 2009 Skype released its wideband audio codec SILK for free to third party developers.

Once a company has made such commitments to offer such free licenses, the biggest hurdle has always been getting others to adopt the technology. Less than a handful of companies have signed up as TIP licensees so far. It remains to be seen how hard Cisco will push or incentivize others to jump on the TIP bandwagon.

In comparison, Skype has gained traction in the open source telephony community. Asterisk now supports Skype calls, albeit without the SILK codec (yet). But more importantly, Skype decided to submit SILK to the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), the first step to applying the codec to become an Internet standard.

Right now Cisco is going about TIP without the blessing of any standards organization. The FAQ is vague on how it intends to tackle this potential problem. Could this deter users in fear of vendor lock-in in the future?

Cisco is making a positive move with this offering, and it could be a win-win situation for everyone. However, it seems there are still some details to be ironed out, but some customers may overlook that simply because Cisco is the dominant market player.

A beautiful thing: new Google Voice web app for iPhone

I was pleasantly surprised this afternoon to find out that Google Voice has a brand new web app for the iPhone, and it is a beautiful thing.

Kudos to Google engineers for making such a great looking and usable web app with HTML5:

Today, we’re excited to introduce the Google Voice web app for the iPhone and Palm WebOS devices. This HTML5 application provides you with a fast and versatile mobile experience for Google Voice because it uses the latest advancements in web technologies. For example, AppCache lets you interact with web apps without a network connection and local databases allow you to store data locally on the device, so you don’t lose data even when you close the browser.

It took a while, but I’m glad I didn’t go the jailbreak route just to get a third party native Google Voice app on my iPhone. This web app is very close to the performance and features of a native app.

Are you also a Google Voice user, be it iPhone or Android? Do you think it’s ready for prime time?

The lesson of the 10-key redial

Oh yes, the ubiquitous Redial button on modern telephones. We take it for granted all the time as it helps us save time and the energy of lifting our fingers to press more keys. It allows us to free our brain cells for more important memories, such as remembering 911 and the number to the nearest pizza joint. It is probably as important an invention as the wheel, the light bulb, the transistor, or even — gasp! — sliced bread.

What happens when the Redial button is absent on a phone?! That travesty of a phone indeed appeared during one of my past projects. A team member very much needed to repeat his previously dialed number which was written on a piece of paper. But there was no button labeled Redial on his desk phone, so naturally he raised his fist and cursed the PBX gods to no end.

Being the snarky member of the team, I made a profound, almost Zen-like remark to him: Of course there is a Redial feature, it’s a 10-key redial.

He was not amused, and I quietly went back to pretending to be busy at doing something CTI-ish.

But there is a lesson here… and that’s to avoid taking any simple technological feature for granted. Furthermore, always remember how to do things the “old” way.

In all CTI implementations there is a law. The law simply states, The contact center agent cannot live without CTI once it has been deployed successfully. In other words, an agent becomes dependent on the softphone and screen-pop, unconsciously taking CTI for granted. Remove CTI and the agent becomes incapacitated. AHT and call abandoned rate start going up and now the supervisors start freaking out. Soon enough the whole center becomes a zoo showcasing animals with headsets attached to their ears.

I propose that every well-managed contact center ought to schedule drills to simulate a CTI “system down” crisis. Take the CTI system offline and instruct the agents on how to continue to take calls, be courteous to callers, and continue to perform their tasks effectively. It should be part of the staff training. Go back to the analog technologies — pen and paper — if necessary. As long as calls are still arriving at the center then there is absolutely no excuse to make customers suffer because of your staff’s addiction to screen-pops.

In my past projects I have never seen a client implementing such a drill. Most of the time it was just documenting procedures for a CTI down scenario. Perhaps we all have overwhelming faith in CTI technology for it to be near-perfect? I don’t know about you, but my cable broadband goes down once in a while and my cell phone still drops calls in 2010.

Holly Connects releases Holly5 update

Boston-based Holly Connects, a voice platform software vendor, announces Holly5 5.1, with major improvements:

The web-based reporting and analytics capabilities of Holly5 have been completely revamped in version 5.1 to provide greater versatility, easier customization, and increased speed. New trending reports can track system metrics over minutes, days, or months. New comparison reports can display differences in system metrics based on server, application, or even caller behavior. “Holly customers have some of the largest, most complex voice platform deployments in the world, so they generate tremendous volumes of call data,” said Ray Teale, Chief Technology Officer for Holly Connects. “The new telco-grade reporting and analytics tools in Holly 5 make sifting through that data easy and efficient, quickly identifying opportunities to improve operations and perfect caller interaction.”

Many functional areas of Holly5 have been enhanced in version 5.1 to support innovative applications. The wide selection of speech technology supported has been expanded to include the latest products from Cepstral, Loquendo, Nuance Communications, and Vlingo, plus applications now can incorporate utterance re-recognition using multiple grammars to improve accuracy. New configuration options more efficiently blend inbound and outbound applications. Optimized call recording now can be enabled on all channels while maintaining full system capacity. VoiceXML access to SIP header fields, a simplified vendor-agnostic CTI interface, and improved whisper transfer facility enable a superior caller experience by tightly integrating Holly5 applications with other call processing elements. “Companies at the forefront of voice automation seek out Holly knowing we can meet their novel business and engineering challenges even when others cannot,” said Lance Berks, Chief Executive Officer of Holly Connects. “Numerous improvements to Holly5 are the direct result of discussions with our visionary customers and are being provided in anticipation of mainstream market trends.”

Holly Connects was included in Gartner’s IVR Visionaries Quadrant in 2008 for its unique voice platform solution. Holly5 is available for Solaris, Red Hat Linux, and CentOS.